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‘It was never about a dream’: NAACP president and CEO speaks at Notre Dame Black excellence celebration dinner

On Thursday evening, hundreds of Notre Dame students, staff and faculty weathered the northern Indiana winter to gather in the Morris Inn Smith Ballroom. 

From the other side of the nation, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Derrick Johnson and other activists traveled to join them. 

Together, they all joined in a celebration of Black excellence as one of the final events of Notre Dame’s annual Walk the Walk week.

Although the goal of the week has been to consider realistic future steps towards diversity and inclusion while reflecting on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Johnson made a different point during his keynote address. 

To begin, he joked to the audience about the pitfalls of the “preach and sleep” method, saying that he was not a fan of a speech format where he spoke about issues unrelatable to the listeners. Johnson urged the audience to both listen and participate in the dialogue during the event and beyond. 

“From our perspective, as NAACP, we see that our democracy is on a shoestring,” he explained. “Being able to pursue life, liberty and happiness as guaranteed in our Constitution is eroding fast and is eroding because of tribalism — using the current political climate to destroy social norms and expectations.”

And instead of preaching, Johnson started to tell a story. He told the audience about a man named A. Philip Randolph and his work as one of the first leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, organizing one of the first labor unions and campaigning to integrate armed services. Johnson also brought up Medgar Evers and an important woman whose true narrative got lost in American history. 

“She always looked much younger than her age. She was a fierce fighter. She was a secretary for the NAACP in Alabama,” he noted. “When there was an incident, she would be the person to go in and investigate those incidents. Does anyone know who I’m talking about? Rosa Parks.”

Pulling it all together, Johnson detailed the events after Parks’ arrest.

“[E.D. Nixon] called three people.” The first two were pastors, who wholeheartedly agreed to participate in whatever Nixon was organizing. The second was MLK Jr., who hesitated due to a fear of being driven out of a town he just moved to. 

“And the reason why I’m going through this part of the journey [is] because in movements, everyone has something to contribute and that as we think of the Civil Rights movement or journey, it was never about one person,” he declared. 

And when the audience was listening in silence, Johnson emphasized: “It was never about a ‘dream’! It was always about the demand that the social contract we call the Constitution will be applied to all.”

Expanding on that idea while the listeners hung on his every word, Johnson proclaimed again. 

“Race is a social construct. It is a political title that we carry around to create ‘others,’” he said. “It is a tool that is still being used today so effectively that it is tearing this democracy apart.”

Moving on, Johnson addressed the audience and called on them to take part in a dialogue. Both faculty members and student leaders stood up to make additions and asked questions regarding steps moving forward at the closing of the event.

The last question was posted by Balfour-Hesburgh scholar and senior Kirsten Williams. 

“When I look at black communities in my local area, it’s disheartening to see that they’re plagued with a lot of violence,” she asked. “What are some strategies or methods that we can employ to uplift and empower Black communities?”

Johnson’s answer was that everything boiled down to hope. “What you are witnessing is the legacy of systemic barriers resulting in hopelessness,” he explained. 

To close, he told one last story about his time in a class that was a requirement for his college graduation. His teacher, Johnson said, was upset one day because of a batch of bad test scores. 

“This particular day, Dr. Simmons was late to class,” he began. “We all get there, we’re sitting quiet. He comes in and was visibly upset… He said to us ‘some of you are resting on your laurels; I assure you, they are not strong enough.’”

Johnson looked around the room and then repeated: “Some of you are sitting on your laurels… Don’t rest on your laurels.”

“All of us in this room have an obligation because we are in a top-tier percentage of those who have the skill and the ability to protect it, grow it and ensure that the social contract we call the Constitution applies to all,” he added. “But the question is, are you up to that challenge?” 

The dinner had many different sponsors, including the Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS), the president’s office and the Department of Diversity and Inclusion, but the event was mainly organized by Notre Dame student government. Leading the charge was Eliza Smith, director of diversity and inclusion – race and ethnicity, and her department. Additionally, biology graduate student Camille Mosley served as the event’s emcee and first-year Bernice Antoine led the group in an opening prayer. 

“We pray for the Black community here and around the world for justice where there is in justice, peace on every street corner and hope for your grace to pour out on this nation,” she invoked with a loud “Amen” and agreement heard around the room. 

At the end of the evening, after dinner and Johnson’s talk, Mosley announced the recipients of the Black excellence staff, faculty and student awards. She explained that the nomination committee decided on the two winners in each category based on a very rigid rubric that took into account many factors including personal accomplishments and their commitment to the legacy of MLK’s dream

The staff award had 19 total nominations and winners were Barbara Wadley, the coordinator for the Balfour-Hesburgh Scholars program, and Harold Swanagan, director of basketball operations. Out of eight possible candidates, the faculty award was given to associate professor of management and organization Angela Logan and associate professor of architecture John Onyango. Finally, students Daymine Snow and Temitayo Ade-Oshifogun were chosen out of the 15 other student nominees.  

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame commemorates MLK, racial justice with Walk the Walk Week

On July 21, 1964, political peacemaker and then-University president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh joined hands with Martin Luther King, Jr. after an impromptu address to crowds at a civil rights rally in Chicago. 

Hesburgh and King, standing side-by-side and hand-in-hand, sang “We shall overcome,” originally a gospel song that had since been adopted as an anthem for the civil rights movement. 

This moment, memorialized in a photograph, has long defined the tradition of social justice at the University of Notre Dame. 

To continue this history and foster the culture of a socially-conscious campus community, the president’s oversight committee on diversity and inclusion announced the creation of Walk the Walk Week (WTWW) in November of 2015. The first observance of the week was held Jan. 18-22, 2016 and featured events like a celebration luncheon, a lecture from the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement and film screenings of “Selma” and “Boycott,” among others. 

This year marked only the second campus-wide observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday. As such, WTWW will be celebrated from Thursday, Jan. 19 to Friday, Jan. 27. 

The president’s office is responsible for organizing the keynote events each year. This week’s keynote address will be delivered by Natasha Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and the Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2012 to 2014. 

Trethewey, currently serving as an Artist in Residence at the Notre Dame Institute on Race and Resilience, will deliver her speech, “Why I Write,” at 5 p.m. on Thursday in 215/216 McKenna Hall. Following Trethewey’s address, WTWW’s annual service project and prayer service will occur over the weekend. 

The WTWW service project this year aims to “address the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in the greater South Bend area,” according to the website. The project will collect, organize and distribute necessary supplies, such as toiletries, to those in need. Items will be collected until Saturday, Jan. 21, at which point collections will be sorted, packaged and given to local organizations. 

On Sunday at 6:30 p.m., the annual prayer service will be given by the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop and primate, the Most Rev. Michael Curry. Curry received international attention in 2018 for his viral sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. He will lead the campus community in reflecting on Dr. King’s legacy and praying for the end of injustice and inequality. After the address, participants will be welcomed to take part in a candlelight march and reception in the Main Building Rotunda. 

While these three keynote events kick off the week, there are many more events to follow.

Notre Dame student government is one of the groups co-sponsoring events to come later on in WTWW. Senior and student body president Patrick Lee expressed his enthusiasm about the programming.

“Student government is excited to be a part of WTWW’s events that highlight all of our University’s strength and diversity,” he said. “It’s our privilege to work with the president’s office and our cultural clubs, and it’s our hope that all our events promote a healthier, stronger community for the Notre Dame of the future.”

Leading the organizing from student government is Eliza Smith, director of diversity and inclusion — race and ethnicity. Smith expressed her personal connection to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy on campus.

“For me personally, this week means a lot to me. I was the [student] senator to write the resolution requesting a full-day observance for MLK Day, two years ago,” she said. “[The Njomo-Bisner administration and I] created the MLK coalition and we got that fully passed through all the necessary channels for the full observance. So now, I’m working on WTWW, which just feels like a continuation of the groundwork we laid down.”

Smith specifically addressed how honored she feels that student government and student opinions are being included and “sought out” for WTWW events and other decisions. She said she worked closely with Heather Asiala, program director for strategic initiatives, and and Hannah Heinzekehr, program director for strategic communication, to advise the president’s office on how to communicate effectively to students. 

Smith also emphasized how King’s legacy is tied into the entire week of events. 

“WTWW is a series of programming centered around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, his legacy of providing equality for every person, providing service and helping out your fellow neighbor no matter how they identify,” she explained. “[My team and the University] provide programming spanning from educational events to celebrating events to recognition to everything under that umbrella, to really just highlight different aspects of his mission and his legacy.”

While working with Asiala and Heinzekehr to streamline the WTWW website and other marketing channels, Smith and her department are also co-sponsoring three WTWW events: a panel on the school-to-prison pipeline, a Black@ND live podcast recording on Black excellence and a dinner celebrating Black excellence, the latter of which includes an address from Derrick Johnson, the CEO and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Smith noted how grateful she was for student government executive leadership in their efforts to build a collaborative relationship with the president’s office that led to her involvement in WTWW.

“Patrick, Sophie and Nicole have been exceptional. To have this new relationship with the president’s office really opens the doors for future admins to continue that relationship and collaborative efforts, so that we can see more events and programming that are with student input and that are highlighted and exciting in the community,” she said. 

The president’s office, Smith said, has encouraged the campus community to think about the future by using the phrase, “What’s your next step?” in this year’s marketing materials. 

“Being able to appreciate and acknowledge the work that has been done and appreciate the workers and the people who have gotten us here,” she said. “But also looking forward to what you as a person can do, I think, is incredibly impactful.”

When WTWW concludes, Smith said her team’s next steps are focused on effective programming for Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March. 

“[My department is] already working incredibly hard on Black History Month and Women’s History Month —finding ways to highlight those events, elevate Black organizations and multicultural clubs, because they have been so helpful in this process,” she explained. “We’re excited to provide support and assistance in any way possible that they need, so that we can continue this trend of supporting each other and keep the ball rolling on those kinds of initiatives.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misspelled Derrick Johnson’s name. The Observer regrets this error.

You can contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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Lee-Stitt administration rides momentum into final semester in roles

Notre Dame student government leaders Patrick Lee, Sofie Stitt, Nicole Baumann and their directors took office on April 1, 2022. Now, at the end of the second semester in their roles, The Observer spoke to the executive cabinet to get an update on their plans and progress. 

Lee and Stitt, the student body president and vice president, respectively, said one surprising outcome of their work is how close the executive cabinet has become. 

“[One indicator] of great success to me is just the relationships that we have with our directors and between the directors,” Lee said. “We have a very strong sense of group identity now, we’re all very close. That, to me, has been an unexpected blessing this semester.”

Stitt, agreeing, said their cabinet is a “complete joy” to work with. 

Chief of staff Baumann, who works closely with the cabinet, explained that this semester contained more action steps rather than planning. 

“Last year in the spring was a lot of the dreaming phase and planning,” she said. “[This semester,] not only have we been able to see a lot of execution of those plans that we thought about back in March of last year, but we’ve also been able to form really good relationships with people in administration.”

Lee compared the cabinet’s movement toward carrying out long-thought plans as putting “rubber to the road” and is confident they will reach 100% completion of the goals outlined in their progress tracker. Currently, 46% of goals have been met, with around 50% of the group’s term now in the rearview mirror.  

“A lot of the hardest work in student government is the work that’s behind the scenes: the research, the report writing, the initial meetings that are sometimes uncomfortable on some of the biggest initiatives,” Lee said. “Those are out of the way, and we’re ready to reap the rewards of the really hard work that we’ve done this semester.”

Stitt explained that many goals are right on the precipice of being completed, noting that “Walk the Walk Week” will occur in the first week of the spring 2023 semester. This year’s programming will focus on the theme, “Education, Celebration and Participation” and will feature a service project, multiple panels and a dinner celebration. 

The leaders highlighted a few of their cabinet members for exceptional work throughout the semester: Anna Dray, Lane Obringer and Collete Doyle. 

Dray, the director of University Policy, has been developing the ND Safe App with police chief Keri Kei Shibata, leading the transition to mobile identification (ID) cards and organizing efforts to upgrade residence hall exercise facilities. 

In the aftermath of a series of various allegations surrounding Title IX earlier this semester, director of gender relations – Title IX and women’s initiatives Obringer led with “strength and grace” to come up with practical and supportive solutions, Lee said. 

“’I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lee emphasized. “She’s so reliable. She’s so passionate and is always ready, even when she’s feeling stressed, to help others.”

Lee also heralded the leadership of sophomore director of communications Doyle, saying, “The communication efforts of our group will be radically changed, and that is in part due to her organizational capabilities and just unending source of effort.”

When asked about the challenges faced by the student body this semester, such as two student deaths and widespread discussion regarding Title IX, Lee drew a comparison from the University to the broader community. 

“Notre Dame is emblematic of the world in a lot of ways, and the struggles that we’re seeing in our society related to Title IX and issues of gender relations as well as a mental health crisis among young people — that’s nationwide, and we have to learn how to cope with those,” Lee said. “I would just say, in those moments of deeper sadness, I’m even more immensely grateful that we are together in a community.”

In terms of challenges within the office, Stitt noted that they chose their cabinet because the students would not give up after the first “No.”

“[Our directors are] going to continually advocate for students and advocate for our campus community. So I would say there have been challenges as we work through a pretty ambitious list of initiatives, but I have been so impressed and in awe of the way that our directors respond,” Stitt explained. 

Looking ahead, the three leaders pointed to many initiatives that will take effect next semester, including a collaboration to improve University Health Service communications, a visit from Bishop Robert Barron, a program to bring free menstrual products to all campus restrooms called Code Red, Taste of South Bend, Vocation Fair and many more. 

Lee, Stitt and Baumann all re-emphasized how honored they are to serve the student body. 

“We are a broken record every time, but it’s just an absolute privilege and a joy for us to serve the student body. If there’s anything we can do, for anybody on campus or in the tri-campus community, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” Stitt said. 

She also noted the overall excitement the cabinet has for the end of their terms and for some rest over the break. 

“I am honestly, really excited to enter this next semester. We’ve got this spectacular team, and we’ve got a lot of momentum behind us,” Stitt said. “But it’s important for us to remember that our directors and everybody in student government is a student first.”

Review: The Lee-Stitt administration has been clear and straightforward surrounding their platform and plans for the year; however, the cabinet is not forthcoming with barriers and issues they have faced while attempting to accomplish their goals. The administration is making definite strides but has not yet reached full transparency. Additionally, the leaders responded soundly to Title IX allegations raised by alleged victims with both practical and supportive solutions to ease students’ pain and gather suggestions for policy updates to bring to University administrators. 

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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Ask The Observer: What happens in the Radiation Research Lab?

Written by Bella Laufenberg, with contributions from Peter Breen and Spencer Kelly.

The Radiation Research Lab is a enigmatic presence on the University’s campus. The imposing but unremarkable building, situated between Hesburgh Library and the Notre Dame Stadium, stands three stories tall on Library Lawn, mystifying many who walk past.

Nuclear Beginnings

The Radiation Research Building was built in 1963, but the lab was actually founded much earlier, going back to the time of the Manhattan Project. Dating to before the 1940s, Notre Dame was one of the pioneer universities developing their own particle accelerators.

The front page of The Observer from Sep. 17, 1969, features the installation of “a new $250,000 linear accelerator (LINAC),” as well as the researchers who utilized it. / Courtesy of University Archives

Due to a lack of funding and resources, Notre Dame physicists George Collins and Edward Coomes, along with electrical engineering professor Jose Caparo set out to build their own particle accelerator in 1935. This large piece of machinery, formerly known as an “atom smasher,” was housed in the Cushing Hall of Engineering, which is today combined with the Fitzpatrick Hall of Engineering near DeBartolo Hall. 

In 1941, a second particle accelerator was constructed in the Science Hall — which is now the basement of LaFortune Student Center — and the third was placed in the then-newly built Nieuwland Hall in 1935. However, the second particle accelerator’s completion coincided with the start of World War II, so it was quickly noticed by the U.S. government. Scientists from other universities, such as the University of Chicago, where many Manhattan Project researchers worked, came to Notre Dame to work with these high-tech accelerators. 

The researchers would take the South Shore Line train over to the University, kicking all students out of the hall while undergoing their experiments. There is debate surrounding whether the experiments were conducted under the cover of night or during the day, but it is known that the Science Hall particle accelerator was used in experiments to develop the atomic bomb. 

After the war, Notre Dame’s researchers turned to more conflict-free uses of nuclear radiation. The Radiation Lab as it is now known was first established in 1949 by researchers from the University of Chicago’s Manhattan Project lab team. Around that time at the end of the 1950s, the group went by the name “Radiation Chemistry Project.” This transformed into the “Radiation Project,” and finally, the “Radiation Lab” was born in 1960.

However, the research was still primarily based in the basement of the Science Hall, coupled with these new ventures and new leadership under Milton Burton led to the construction of the Radiation Research Building in 1963 on land that was leased from the University. 

Peaceful Transformation

After the Radiation Research Building was finished, nuclear energy research at the University exploded. This state-of-the-art lab is three stories high with a full basement useful for storing large experimental devices. It is approximately 64,000 square feet in area — larger than the White House. 

The summer 1962 edition of Notre Dame Magazine heralded the new building, saying “the construction is novel and exciting and promises to be architecturally very impressive.” 

The entire building was owned and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy until Nov. 1, 2022, when it officially became Notre Dame property. The lab still receives around $4 million of funding from the government annually. 

The Radiation Research Lab is home to three particle accelerators (one pictured here) underground outside the outer wall of the building. Peter Breen | The Observer
The Radiation Research Lab is home to three particle accelerators (one pictured here), which are housed underground outside the outer wall of the building. / Peter Breen | The Observer

The Radiation Lab still owns and uses particle accelerators to this day, with three of them sitting just outside of the building’s outer wall underground. The accelerators, one linear and two Van de Graaff, are used to shoot radiation into samples, so scientists can then analyze the effects of the radiation in various experiments. The lab also currently owns three direct sources of radioactive material, each encased in inches of lead. 

The Radiation Lab operates the particle accelerators from outside of the lab, where they are a safe distance away from the radiation. / Peter Breen | The Observer

Jay LaVerne, concurrent professor of physics and radiation lab researcher, explained that the University owns “at least” seven particle accelerators in total at this point in time. Of the four not in the lab, three are with the department of physics and one is located a mile underground in a mine in South Dakota, in order to examine reactions without the added cosmic radiation from the sun. 

The current director of the lab, Ian Carmichael, said that although the lab houses the accelerators and other sources of radiation, it is completely safe to the public. 

“When [the accelerators] are on, the radiation is on. But when they are off, the radiation is off,” he explained. “They are not long term sources of radiation.”

Although the building is safe, and the accelerators are housed in feet of concrete and dirt, being caught next to a running accelerator is fatal, as is being exposed to the radioactive material situated in the basement. 

Bella Laufenberg | The Observer

LaVerne jokingly told The Observer that people do safely leave the building. 

“I know there is a rumor that people go into the lab and can’t get out, but that’s not true,” he assured.

He also mentioned a running joke each winter, in which some student builds a snowman outside the lab with two heads, as though it has morphed from the radiation. 

Besides what occurs outside the lab, the building is home to many famous radiation scientists like Prashant Kamat, a specialist in charge transfer processes and energy conversion, who was named one of the top 50 chemists by Research.com and ranked at 31st in U.S. chemists and 45th in the global rankings, author Rebecca Hick said in the Notre Dame announcement. During his 44 years at the University, LaVerne, who has recently been inducted into the inaugural class of Radiation Research Society Fellows, has worked on countless projects, mostly surrounding nuclear reactor safety. 

“We deal with reactors: How safe are they? Can we make them run better? Can we make them last longer? Many of the reactors that exist today are getting to the end of their lifetime. [The Department of Energy] wants to extend their lifetimes. And so, can we do that safely?” he asked. 

When questioned about how he works with nuclear reactors without being near one, LaVerne explained that they use high-pressurized cells to heat water up to reactor temperatures and, in turn, study the specific chemistry at those temperatures. 

LaVerne also has side projects where he works with radiation in space and in moon rocks, saying that he regularly communicates with companies like SpaceX, which is trying to send humans back to the moon and to Mars.

Behind the Sciences

The workhorse behind many of the major discoveries from the radiation lab is their two workshops — the scientific glassblowing shop and the machine shop

The machine shop is located in the basement of the lab. It spans two large rooms, hosting a wide variety of technical tools such as surface grinders, drill presses, saws, welding equipment, CNC technology and a CO2 laser. The projects in the shop include 3D printing, CAD design, laser engraving, machine consultation, instrument assembly and alterations.

The machine shop works with a wide variety of materials such as wood, glass and plastics. / Peter Breen | The Observer

The shop is run by program manager Joe Admave, who is a specific kind of professional craftsman, termed a “journeyman.” He works on many different projects, both with the lab and outside of it, which is his favorite part of the job. 

“My favorite part about [the job] is that you never know what is going to walk through those doors,” he said. “It’s something new every day.”

Admave has run the shop for around 11 years now and, with agreement from LaVerne, called himself a “unicorn.”

“I’m like a jack of all trades,” he explained. “It’s very rare to find someone skilled in all of these trades nowadays.”

The glassblowing workshop, on the other hand, is located on the first floor and run by nationally renowned glassblower Kiva Ford, who has a college degree in scientific glassblowing. Like with Admave’s machine shop, Ford has been with the lab for several years and works on a huge variety of projects both within the University and nationwide. His technical workshop is home to a precision wet cut-off saw, wet belt sander, cork boring machine, ESA-P glassblowing lathe and large-scale convection oven. He creates everything from test tubes for particle detection to optical cells for dark matter research.

LaVerne noted that the shops were instrumental in a lot of major breakthroughs in the lab. 

“In order to accomplish novel science, you need to have novel science equipment,” he said. “A lot of our discoveries would not have been possible without [the shops].”

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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‘Know that you are never alone’: Community, family mourns loss of ND sophomore

James “Jake” Blaauboer passed away unexpectedly on Friday, Nov. 11. Blaauboer was a sophomore at Notre Dame, veteran of the U.S. Army and avid runner, but most importantly, he was a brother, a son and a friend.

Born in December 1995, Blaauboer grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Clifton Park. He lived with his loving parents, Mary and James “Jim” Blaauboer, and younger sister Molly Blaauboer. 

Molly Blaauboer, only 20 months younger than Blaauboer, said she was always the “proud younger sister,” following behind Jake throughout their schooling. 

“Molly is very outgoing and social, and Jake was very reserved and would keenly observe,” their mother, Mary Blaauboer, explained. 

Jake and Molly Blaauboer grew up together in Clifton Park, New York with their parents, Mary and Jim Blaauboer. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Right out of high school, Blaauboer enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then spent the next few years of his life in active and reserve duty, during most of which he was stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado. 

After his service, Blaauboer started community college and applied to a myriad of other universities and colleges — one of which was the University of Notre Dame. Although his parents said they had no personal connection to Notre Dame, the family grew up watching Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish win football games. 

Blaauboer first transferred into the University in the fall of 2019, where he was a sophomore English major in St. Edward’s Hall. 

His family explained that although Blaauboer loved to read and write, he didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish with an English degree— which was why he took a leave of absence from the University in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

When he left Notre Dame, Blaauboer went directly into technical school where he learned to be a welder. Working with his hands was something that Blaauboer began during his time as the Army when he was randomly selected to be a mechanic, Molly Blaauboer said.  

“We’re getting outreach now about how great he was at being a mechanic and what a great soldier he was, which we totally believe, but it’s interesting to see the ripple,” she noted. 

After he finished technical school, the family said Blaauboer moved to Maine to work as a welder, far away from his hometown in New York. 

While the family was in Maine celebrating Easter 2022, Molly Blaauboer mentioned that Blaauboer announced his intention to return to Notre Dame unexpectedly. 

“This is completely out of the blue,” she said. “[He said,] ‘I have something to tell you guys … I’ve applied to be unparoled from Notre Dame.’”

Jake Blaauboer was only 20 months older than Molly, who said her teachers always liked to have another Blaauboer in their classrooms. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Molly Blaauboer noted that this wasn’t unlike Blaauboer and that he often changed his mind about what he wanted to accomplish with his life. 

“I would joke about how I wonder what he wants to do this week,” she laughed. 

Mary Blaauboer explained that Blaauboer wasn’t happy as a welder because he needed something more intellectually stimulating. The family said he loved to debate politics, philosophy and history with anyone who would listen. 

“He’s an intellectual person, you know, he was a deep thinker. He was a reader,” Mary said. 

Blaauboer had to go through an entire re-entry process, Molly said, and finally found out he was retuning in July. So, in August 2022, now 26 year old Blaauboer moved to Notre Dame for the second time but as a history major instead. 

Because adjusting to college life can be hard — especially the second time — Notre Dame’s care and wellness consultants in the Center for Student Support and Care put together a support group filled with re-admitted students, including Blaauboer and fellow sophomore Ua Tom.  

Tom, a theology major and native of the Bronx in New York City, said he was originally a Gateway student, but he took time off from the University because he didn’t want his first semester at Notre Dame to be controlled by the COVID-19 pandemic. While away, Tom returned to NYC and was a teacher in Chinatown. 

“All of us re-admits, we have our mental health issues, for sure, every single one of us. But that’s also what got us close,” Tom noted. 

The support group, colloquially named “we back” by the members, met every Wednesday at 4 p.m., according to Tom. 

“Self-deprecation was the highest form of humor that we have for ourselves in that group. We dropped out but we’re back,” he joked. 

Tom explained that Blaauboer stood out as a natural mentor and leader of the group.

“When Jake spoke, people listened, he was just so earnest and genuine. Jake always checked up on me and was a wonderful influence on myself and the rest of the readmitted students,” Tom said. “He happily and naturally took on the role of an older brother and mentor, and whenever I saw him it would totally make my day. It was clear from the moment that I met him that he had a big heart. His positivity and compassion was contagious.”

Tom said he would never forget one moment when Blaauboer helped Tom during a difficult period of time.

“I’ll never forget when I was really having a tough time [at the beginning of the semester] when I was in the thick of [transitioning] and really struggling to focus on class,” he explained. “Jake gave me a hug. He told me he was there for me, and I wasn’t alone.”

Although he had only known Blaauboer for a short time, Tom noted how much of an impact Blaauboer had on him, saying that he wished they had spent more time together. 

“He really was a light of a human being. He was such an easily likable guy who was really gentle and kind,” he said. “In some ways, he knew us better than we knew ourselves.”

Apart from classes and the support group, Blaauboer was also active in the Notre Dame Running Club. Race coordinator for the club and Stanford Hall junior Jonathan Karr said Blaauboer was an active member of the group and often volunteered to drive the team to and from meets. 

“He was very supportive of the entire team. He took pictures when we ran, he wanted us to succeed, and he cheered for all the runners,” Karr said. 

Karr emphasized how deeply grateful he was for Blaauboer’s positive influence on the team and for him personally. 

“I was a very close friend with Jake, and he really helped the team,” Karr noted. “He really, really embodied what it means to be a Fighting Irish.”

The family also emphasized how important running, particularly the routine of the sport, was to Blaauboer.

“He was strict with himself,” Mary Blaauboer said. “Routine and ritual were important to him in every aspect. So, there was a routine for food and exercise and friendships and then the school and work and everything. For him, overlapping those things was uncomfortable.”

They said he also loved comedy and was a huge fan of movies. Overall, the Blaauboers said the outpouring of love they have received from family, friends, teammates and anyone who knew Blaauboer has meant a lot to them. 

“That’s an amazing blessing and comfort — to know that he’s remembered and prayed for,” Mary Blaauboer said.

The family said Jake Blaauboer loved movies, comedy and running. He would also debate politics or philosophy with anyone who would listen. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Tom emphasized that anyone, who knew Blaauboer personally or not, can honor his memory by living fully and not being afraid to reach out to others.

“Live with the same spirit that he did,” Tom said. “Reach out and ask someone how they are doing, like he did for us.”

Fr. Pete McCormick, the inaugural assistant vice president for campus ministry, echoed Tom’s sentiment during Notre Dame’s mass of remembrance on Nov. 16.

“Sometimes words fail and can’t always communicate the depths of sorrow,” he said. “Be unafraid to reach out to a member of hall staff, the University Counseling Center (UCC) or campus ministry. Know that you are never alone.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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Viewpoint

A controversial column

An inside column can be many things: Funny, cliche, informational, emotional, controversial or otherwise. When I realized (a bit too late) that I had an inside column due this Sunday, I had a decision to make.  

I’ve already covered funny-ish when I told the campus that I was using Taylor Swift’s Red to recover from a break-up. And my last column was emotional, a detailed account of my mental health struggles and my journey to self-compassion — which I am still working on to this day. 

I decided I wanted to try my hand at a Ryan Peters-esque controversial column. Unlike Ryan’s tie to athletic endeavors (see: making physical education a requirement again and removing the last names off the football team’s jerseys), I don’t particularly care about the sports program outside of cheering on our teams at games. My love of sports lies in Wisconsin and the Packer’s horrible season, definitely not in the nuances of college football or gym class (which I did everything in my power to avoid as a high schooler). 

But nonetheless, throughout my time here, I too have collected a myriad of “unpopular” opinions. Are they horribly wrong and extremely unimportant? Probably, but I have a column to write and no other ideas. 

My top controversial Notre Dame-themed opinions (separated into sections in true Bella fashion)

1. Southwest salad >>> 

Starting off strong with my least unpopular opinion (I think). When I first got to campus in the year of our Lord 2020, one of the first stories I wrote was an update to the dining halls with the new COVID-19 regulations. During my interview, the administrators told me that one of their top priorities was bringing back the popular Southwest salad. Unbeknownst to me as a newbie to the tri-campus and to journalism, this salad would change my life.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I adore it. You can ask my friends, and I’m sure they will attest to the fact that I wholeheartedly love getting my Southwest salad every Thursday. I also gave a class presentation once about the powers of this mystical salad, embarrassing but true. Although I’ve been slacking lately, I know I can always count the NDH ladies for a great midweek pick up. 

2. Scooters are helpful if you know how to use them

All right, this one might be a little farfetched, but I am a sucker for convenience. In my sophomore year, I started doing undergraduate research in a biology lab that is located across the street in the Indiana School of Medicine (in the same building as the Harper Cancer Research Center). Very quickly, I realized that the 20+ minute walk in the South Bend winter was NOT IT. So, like a diligent daughter, I begged my father to buy me a fancy electric scooter like all the athletes have (does Notre Dame have a partnership with Go-Trax??). 

And though I definitely don’t look as cool as the football players, I can be seen scooting by whenever I have an over 5-minute walk or am running late (always). A caveat to this opinion is that I am a respectful scooter user, I promise. I only use the roads or unoccupied sidewalks and never zoom past people at 15+ mph, which is downright rude honestly.

3. North quad (and NDH) is supreme 

As a resident of the wonderful (if a tad problematic) Breen-Phillips Hall, I am a North Quad girlie through and through. 

I am already nostalgic about summer evenings when music blasts from speakers in either Zahm, Keenan or Stanford Halls, and everyone fills out the small lawn with blankets and outdoor games. I feel at home in NDH, which is a little tacky but can somehow always be counted on to be playing bops and bangers at dinner (and has debatably better food). I love that we have a great view of the Dome and short walks to almost anywhere you need to go (cue my one morning class in Geddes Hall!). 

Plus, we’re closer to the fire station for those 4 a.m. fire alarms … And after all, who can resist the beautiful women of Farley Hall? Certainly not Fr. Jenkins or me. 

4. The Observer is the best student group on campus

I detect no bias in that statement … But on a real note, my Notre Dame experience would not be what it is without the Observer. It’s been my home from the first week on campus, and I would consider my colleagues who work alongside me to be some of my closest friends. I’ll leave it there before I get too sentimental, but let’s both look forward to an amazing goodbye column in T-minus a year and a half. 

If you got all the way through this, thank you. I think this was a real bonding experience. Please send me your craziest Notre Dame (or otherwise) controversial opinions. I would love to debate or agree with you, possibly over a Southwest salad lunch?

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu (or by looking for the one person who doesn’t look athletic with a scooter).

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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News

Explained: University leaders talk about the history and purpose of SpeakUp

SpeakUp Notre Dame is a call to the campus community to not be silent but heard.  

Following the Inclusive Campus Survey, which uncovered that only 15% of the student body knew how to use SpeakUp, the Observer spoke to University administrators and other leaders to dive deeper into the history behind the tool, the intended purpose and how it works in practice. 

Historical Significance 

SpeakUp was first published as a resource for the Notre Dame campus in 2015 after recommendations from the Diversity Council and the Division of Student Affairs. 

Director of communications for the division, Kate Morgan, explained that around the same time, student affairs was made aware of several “concerning” incidents surrounding racial discrimination on campus. 

“The roots are in really related to race,” she noted. 

They realized, she said, there was a need for a space where anyone on campus could file a complaint or report an issue to the correct office. 

“[The division] wanted to make a space for people to be able to report and have more ease doing that, because [anyone needing to report] didn’t know where to go,” she said. 

After the first iteration, SpeakUp underwent a reorganization in 2019. Morgan said she oversaw the redesign that was informed by the 2018 Inclusive Campus Survey. 

“We revamped it based on the student feedback, and I think it’s a lot easier to follow once you get on the site and really realize that it is a reporting tool,” she explained. 

As part of the reworking, Morgan said she and Office of Community Standards (OCS) director Heather Ryan worked together closely to make the site more user-friendly and answer common questions about the reporting process, including detailing the difference between confidential and non-confidential resources on campus, options for reporting and what reporters can expect next. 

Morgan noted specifically that anyone who works with the University is a non-confidential resource, with the exception of medical staff, anyone within the University Counseling Center (UCC) and a vowed religious acting within the capacity of their vows. One example Morgan used was a priest who also serves as the rector of a residence hall. She explained that he would be considered a non-confidential resource because he is not specifically working within his duties as a priest. Morgan also mentioned there is a difference between being a non-confidential resource and a mandatory reporter. 

Morgan said she is very proud of how the SpeakUp site is organized now and believes that students will have an easier time navigating the site to learn the tool’s purpose and filing a report correctly if the need arises. 

The Mechanics

Anyone with a Notre Dame NetID (the beginning part of any Notre Dame email address) can access SpeakUp and file a report. 

Ryan referred to the tool as a “landing page,” explaining that from the SpeakUp website, a student can file a variety of different reports based on the specific incident. On the reporting page, a reporter has five different options of which type of report to file: an incidence of racial or discriminatory harassment, anything related to sexual harassment and wrongdoing, hazing or initiatory events, retaliation or violation of a University order, and any other type of incident. 

Based on which report is chosen, the completed form is routed to the corresponding office. For example, an incidence of sexual harassment that was reported would go directly to the University’s Title IX office. 

Director of diversity and inclusion for race and ethnicity Faith Woods explained that the purpose of SpeakUp is to be a “direct connection” between the administration and anyone who has been involved or witnessed an incident of wrongdoing. 

Ryan and Morgan both emphasized although the process varies within the circumstances of the incident, someone from the addressing department on campus will reach out to those involved in a timely manner about the next steps. 

“I think one piece that’s important to note is that [within 48 hours], you will hear from someone to go through what next steps would be appropriate for that particular complaint or grievance,” Morgan noted. 

Ryan said that specifically within OCS, outcomes of a filed complaint will take one of three routes: the meeting, the conference and the hearing. She said the meeting is the least formal, consisting of a meeting with a rector or hall staff for a first-time offense; whereas, the hearing is a more severe outcome with possible University dismissal in the realm of decisions.

“The conference is the middle part, it’s sort of a middle ground with a lot of formation and growth can occur,” she said. “It still has some disciplinary status outcomes available, but that’s not maybe the first place those conversations start.”

Future Directions and Drawbacks

Both Morgan and Ryan acknowledged there is still work to be done to publicize the SpeakUp tool. 

Outside the student-led focus groups coming out of the Inclusive Campus Survey, another of the steps taken recently was a joint campaign with the Division of Student Affairs and Notre Dame student government, specifically student government director of gender relations for Title IX and woman’s initiatives Lane Obringer. 

Obringer said she noticed that a lot of the promotional material for SpeakUp was outdated and saw an opportunity to raise awareness for a tool she believes is extremely important. 

“I thought that just bringing [SpeakUp] to the forefront of the student body’s attention would be super important as we began the school year, especially because the time from the first day of school until Thanksgiving break is known as the Red Zone of increased sexual assaults and violence on college campuses,” she said. 

Over the summer, Obringer worked with Morgan to design new promotional material for SpeakUp.

One place Obringer hesitates in regard to SpeakUp is that she knows the decision to bring an incident forward to University officials is difficult. 

“I’m really, really grateful that SpeakUpND does exist — we need a platform for students to be able to share their experiences of the bad things that have happened on this campus,” she emphasized. “But I also understand its downsides.”

When asked about her views on SpeakUp as a whole, Obringer began to tell a story of when she sat in on a faculty senate meeting. 

Obringer said that when SpeakUp was brought up in the meeting, none of the faculty knew what it was or how to access it. 

“That was really worrisome to me, that faculty, and sometimes staff members aren’t aware of SpeakUpND, and they don’t know its purpose,” she said. “Yes, SpeakUp is important. Yes, it is a vital resource for our campus, but all eyes need to be on it.”

Director of multicultural student programs and services (MSPS) Arnel Bulaoro said he encourages students to utilize SpeakUp when they face situations with harmful racial harassment, bias or discrimination. He noted that part of his role as director is to help the administration and assist students who experience racial microaggressions. 

Bulaoro pointed out that although the reporting tool aims to decrease incidents of wrongdoing on campus, reporting itself can be a burden at times. 

“The nature of SpeakUp as a tool is to raise awareness of incidents, investigate and to support. It is not designed to cause harm to those who are injured by these incidents, but it is fair to say that reliving them can be a source of pain,” he said in an email. 

As far as the future goes, Bulaoro wrote that he believes the University can do more to promote SpeakUp to the student body. 

“Several years ago, Diversity Council suggested to the University to create a reporting tool and to that end, SpeakUp is serving its intended purpose,” he said. “Perhaps, it is more fair to say that our campus community can raise awareness that this tool is available to help make our community a better place.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the housing office of SpeakUpND. The Observer regrets this error.

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu

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News

Notre Dame partners with Mayo Clinic on cancer research

What if science had the ability to dip into past genes to investigate a current ailment?

The results of a recent study, a collaboration between researchers at the Notre Dame genomics & bioinformatics core facility (GBCF) and the Mayo Clinic, mean that science might be headed in that direction for breast cancer and other diseases. 

The paper, titled “Quality control recommendations for RNASeq using FFPE samples based on pre-sequencing lab metrics and post-sequencing bioinformatics metrics,” was published in BMC Medical Genomics online Sept. 16 and has 18 contributors from the two organizations. 

Humble beginnings

The years-long project started with a cohort of patient samples from Amy Degnim, a specialized breast cancer surgeon and researcher at the Mayo Clinic. Degnim, a graduate of Notre Dame herself, had old benign samples from a subset of her patients that later developed breast cancer. 

“Our interest is in looking back at these benign biopsies [the women] had years before they ever developed the cancer and comparing the biopsies of the women who did get cancer to those who didn’t,” she explained. “What are the differences, the molecular differences in the tissue that would give us some clues?”

Degnim added that having samples from the same person at two different time periods can give insights into possible somatic mutations, instead of hereditary, germline mutations that are commonly studied such as the BRCA 1 and 2 in breast cancer. 

“Most women who get breast cancer don’t have a BRCA mutation or another genetic mutation. Most women who get breast cancer have, we think, somatic mutations — cumulative errors in genome that then translate into errors in cell proliferation genes and cause certain cells that have these mutations to proliferate out of control.”

Degnim said she realized that she had a very unique opportunity to almost literally look back in time to a period before the cancer developed; however, the samples were formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded, a kind of preservation technique that allowed for the degradation of the DNA and RNA molecules needed for sequencing.

Degnim brought her problem to a colleague, who connected her to the Notre Dame GBCF. There, director Michael Pfrender, assistant director Melissa Stephens and technical scientist Brent Harker were up to the challenge. 

“They were willing to take this project to push the limits of how successfully we can do RNA sequencing on these really, really old tissues,” Degnim said. 

The legwork

According to Stephens, the partnership started in 2017, took a small break during the COVID-19 pandemic and the work for the paper was finally finished in 2021. She also noted that the GBCF worked closely with Derek Radisky, another collaborator on the paper and a cancer biology researcher at the clinic. 

While Degnim, Radisky and others dealt with larger brainstorming and clinical applications, the collaborators at the GBCF did a majority of the legwork on the project — including RNAseq, a specialty of the center.

Stephens explained that RNAseq is a technique used to quantify the amount of RNA transcribed using next generation sequencing. 

“Using RNAseq allows you to look at differences — what’s turned on, what’s turned off in these genes — and get information about the function of the genes,” she said. “[RNAseq] allows you to better understand the underlying biology of, in this case, a particular disease.”

The issue, Stephens said, was not with the archived preserved (FFPE) samples themselves but with the method of RNA extraction and the manner of enriching, or marking, the strands of interest. 

“You have to use these other methods to try and get the coding transcriptome out [of the samples] without using the traditional approaches,” she said. 

Stephens outlined two main methods that she and Harker used in the paper: the ribosomal depletion method or the exome sequence capture approach. The conclusion drawn in the paper was that the exome capture approach yielded better enrichment results than the depletion method. 

At the end of a long trial and error period to figure out the best method, Pfrender explained that there was a need to figure out which samples’ data was reliable or “trustworthy.”

“In a whole range of samples, some were in pretty good shape, and some were in really rough shape. So, the big challenge for us was to try to figure out how to quantify that so we know which ones were safe to move forward,” he said. “The statisticians really took a harsh look at the data to try to figure out ‘what’s the roadmap? where are those cut offs?’”

The paper’s conclusion consisted of method recommendations on how to get usable data and guidance of how to judge good and bad samples. 

Pfrender also took the opportunity to talk up the work ethic and patience of the center’s researchers. 

“It’s really quite an accomplishment, and it’s completely up to their expertise and infinite patience trying to work through this project. I think most facilities would have just given up,” he said. “You lose a lot of potentially very important information … these kinds of samples are quite rare and really precious.”

Although the samples were localized to breast tissue and the study about breast cancer, Stephens said she believed the recommendations they created are viable for all FFPE samples. 

Pfrender added in his belief that the standards and methods developed could be used to go back and study FFPE samples from 30 years into the past and beyond. 

Into the future

Moving forward, Degnim told The Observer that they are currently in the process of analyzing the results of the RNAseq. 

“The first step was just, ‘Can we trust this data?’” she explained. “Now we’re analyzing the data in those samples that pass the quality metrics to find out what the differences are in gene expression in women who develop cancer in the future and the women who did not.”

Degnim said she hopes to identify some biomarker, causative of the cancer or otherwise, that she can incorporate into future research endeavors and more studies. 

“[This research] is a discovery effort to try to find new factors that either may predispose to breast cancer or will tell us that if a woman is expressing these changes in their RNA, they will be at an increased risk to get a breast cancer,” Degnim mentioned.

A graduate of Notre Dame herself, Degnim noted that she was really excited to work with the University on this project. 

“It’s been really very thrilling and very endearing for me to be able to circle back now and have this collaboration with my alma mater,” she said. 

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu

Categories
News

University leaders talk next steps after campus inclusive survey results

The Campus Inclusive Survey, which has been done previously in 2018 and 2020, asked the Notre Dame student population to reflect on their sense of belonging and what factors have influenced how at home they feel under the golden dome. 

Data was collected from February to March 2022 and yielded a 42 percent response rate, according to vice president of student affairs Fr. Gerry Olinger. 

“We had 5,380 respondents [to the] survey, which we were actually very pleased with,” he said. “On average, the national response rate for these types of surveys is about 20 to 24 percent. So, we had a significantly higher response rate than many other institutions.”

The results of the recent survey, Olinger explained, are entirely accessible to anyone within the campus community, except in cases where anonymity could not be preserved. Students, faculty and staff can log into the survey results using their Notre Dame NetID and password. 

Viewers can find the survey results in their aggregate form by clicking through data in each of the nine survey topics: respondent characteristics, student experiences at Notre Dame, comfort sharing aspects of identity, recommending Notre Dame, how Notre Dame has changed, insensitive remarks, adverse treatment, resources for reporting and open-ended comments. 

Out of many result statistics, Olinger highlighted a few that he said stood out to him, both good and bad, including that 89% of students reported feeling a sense of belonging on campus. This number correlated with the 50% of students who responded to experiencing adverse treatment ranging from verbal comments or jokes to threats of violence and personal property damage.

Additionally, only 7% of reported instances of adverse treatment were reported, either to a staff member, SpeakUp or another reporting mechanism. Although he did express concern about the low number of reported cases of adverse treatment, Olinger noted that most of the respondents did respond that they knew how to recognize and report instances of discrimination.

“We can celebrate a strong sense of belonging, we can celebrate some of the more positive, but we also need to acknowledge that there is work, important work, to do ahead. And that’s where myself and others are so committed,” he said. 

In response to a low familiarity rate with the reporting database SpeakUP.nd.edu, Olinger said the steering committee is entering into an advertising campaign with Notre Dame student government and added a new racial discrimination and sexual assault awareness module to Welcome Weekend. 

While the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research (OSPIR) collected the data and worked to format the results to assure anonymity, Olinger said the steering committee oversaw how the results were organized, interpreted and merged into both existing and future programs, including the creation of more listening sessions.  He also noted his weekly office hours and fireside chats as being open to anyone wishing to talk about campus issues. 

Alongside Olinger at many of those student-led sessions will be the inaugural vice president for institutional transformation and advisor to the president, Hugh Page. A part of Notre Dame faculty since 1992 in theology and Africana studies, Page transitioned from his former position as vice president and associate provost for undergraduate studies in July. In his current role directly under University President John Jenkins, Page said he works on campus wide diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. 

“My responsibility now is to help coordinate and catalyze progress on DEI initiatives on campus and to collaborate with the President and key leaders on campus, for example, members of the President’s Leadership Council and the deans in ensuring the success of those efforts,” he said. 

Although Page acknowledged his importance to the University, he explained that he is not necessarily the face of DEI on campus. 

“We have so many people working on DEI related projects and a collective sense that even though I’m in this role, if you were going to ask the question, ‘who is the face of DEI at Notre Dame,’ the most reasonable answer would be all of us,” he said. “I am, in some ways, the first among equals in this sort of work.” 

Page noted his eagerness for student guidance to inform their actions.

“In this day and time, there can never be too much conversation about issues that enable us to feel a sense of belonging and focus on the kind of community that we want to be and the steps that we need to take,” he said. “More intensive conversations, opportunities to get to know one another and the infusion of the efforts everywhere … I think that’s something that we need to see going forward.”

Page and Olinger emphasized their joint intent to not only have conversations surrounding DEI but also to put more informed ideas into action. 

“[The changes will] not be done in a vacuum but it’s done in very much of an iterative way,” Olinger said. “Sometimes the fear is that the University is just listening, and I think it’s important to show that there are important action items and steps taken, but we also need to make sure that that action is being informed by student voices.”

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu

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News

‘There’s always another way’: Student Government leaders plan for successful school year

Over the summer, Patrick Lee, Sofie Stitt, Nicole Baumann and the rest of Notre Dame Student Government were hard at work for the student body. 

Lee, the student body president, explained that he stayed in South Bend to plan for the year and build relationships with administrators, other staff members and cabinet directors. 

“I never count the hours, so it’s hard to tabulate, but [my work] was a lot of meeting with administrators, trying to build relationships and paving the way for our initiatives to follow. I think, also, the great majority of the time was spent meeting with Nicole and our directors,” Lee said. 

Baumann, the chief of staff, said she came back to the University for the whole month of August to help Lee with planning and organization for the coming school year after spending the first part of the summer in Los Angeles working with non-profit organizations. 

“With Patrick, that was a lot of strategizing for the year,” she said. 

Stitt, the vice president, was in Chicago completing a finance internship, but she said she contributed to the summer work virtually. 

Lee said the 17 department directors each have five to fine goals for the year, which are outlined on the Student Government progress tracker. The website is set up so interested students can click on each department and scroll through all of the goals. Lee said more information can be found by contacting each department. 

Lee explained that one of the main goals of the progress tracker is to combat voter apathy. 

“The number one thing that we encountered in our election was voter apathy. A lot of times, people don’t know what Student Government is and what we do,” he said. “Now, we have made sure that if anybody ever asks that question, they can reference this extensive guide and immediately know what’s going on.”

Lee, Stitt and Baumann all expressed excitement about the new progress tracker, saying it will help keep the cabinet on track. 

“We think that the progress tracker goes a long way for both accountability and transparency, which are really two of our highest values,” Lee said. 

Baumann, who described the tracker as a “holistic view,” also noted that the tracker and goals may change throughout the year. 

“[The executive cabinet members] are always looking for new ideas from their department chairs, as well as from the student body,” she said. 

Currently, the organization has finished 15 out of the 90 goals outlined, making them 16.5% of the way to completion. 

Many of the completed projects were oriented toward new student engagement, such as “Football 101” for international students and “Flick on the Field” at the end of the first week of classes. 

Two major improvements to student life occurred in the residence and dining halls. 

Safety after parietals was a massive change to Notre Dame student life that was implemented this fall after three years in the works. The final push was brought about by Lane Obringer, director of gender relations, Title IX and women’s initiatives.

The new rules state that if a student feels unsafe in a dorm environment past parietals, they can leave without fear of repercussions, Baumann said. 

Lee said he was happy about finishing a movement started by previous departments and about how they collaborated with administrators. 

“Certainly credit to the previous administrations, but it’s been our approach since we took office that the administrators that we worked with on safety after parietals, and as well as most administrators, actually share goals with our organization,” Lee explained. “We approached those conversations at first with a cooperative mindset, as opposed to an adversarial mindset.”

Stitt emphasized that, although the cabinet has completed the initiative, they will continue to promote those resources to the student body. 

Another one of the campaign’s main goals was to bring back healthier options for students in dining halls. The cabinet accomplished this by not only bringing back vegan and vegetarian options for every meal and carving stations on Thursday, but also by changing the dining hall hours to be open until 8 p.m. on weekends. 

Coming up, Baumann said she is excited about bringing back the Sustainability Cup, Race Relations Week in October and the suicide memorial prayer service, among various other programs in the works. 

Some of the goals for the cabinet won’t be completed until the end of their term, such as Pridefest 2023 and Back the Bend.

Baumann noted that this year, Back the Bend will hopefully be a national endeavor, with alumni clubs joining throughout the country. 

The leadership team also said they are working toward better communication in the coming year. They will start to implement better social media engagement and a podcast called “Pod, Country, Notre Dame.”

Stitt said they encourage interested students, especially first-years and transfers, to get involved in Student Government by coming to their weekly coffee chats and reaching out to department directors. 

“We’re just really excited for [everyone] to be here. We cannot wait to serve them this year,” Stitt said. “We really just encourage [new students] to get involved on campus, whether that’s with student government or with clubs or intramural sports or in the dorm.”

Lee, echoing Stitt’s sentiment, called for any interested students to bring them ideas. 

“I think I can speak for the three of us in saying there’s really nothing that we wouldn’t do for the student body,” Lee said. “If anybody wants to see anything or they have any ideas, come chat and we’ll make it happen.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.